Examining sediment infill dynamics at Naracoorte cave megafauna sites using multiple luminescence dating signals
Relatively little is known about the long-term sediment accumulation dynamics of Naracoorte Cave Complex (NCC) solution pipe cavities, and many of the megafauna-bearing infill deposits at this globally significant Australian Pleistocene fossil locality remain partially dated or lack any numerical age control. In this study, we assess the suitability of three different luminescence dating signals for improving existing chronologies at six Late and Middle Pleistocene NCC sites (n = 22 samples), and we undertake multi-site examinations of NCC sediment infill dynamics spanning the last 550 thousand years (ka). Modern analogue samples collected from above and beneath two active cave entrances confirm that single-grain OSL, single-grain TT-OSL and multi-grain pIR-IRSL signals can be reset down to insignificant residual levels (<10−1–100 Gy) when compared with the natural dose ranges of interest for most NCC palaeontological applications. Replicate luminescence dating comparisons performed at six NCC fossil sites (n = 15 samples) reveal consistent ages for twenty-eight out of thirty-one paired OSL–TT-OSL, OSL–pIR-IRSL and TT-OSL–pIR-IRSL datasets. Nineteen of the twenty Middle to Late Pleistocene samples analysed from the NCC sites produce homogeneous OSL, TT-OSL and pIR-IRSL De datasets suggesting that the NCC solution pipe deposits considered here are generally not affected by syn-depositional mixing complications that can take place within closed karst cavities (i.e., the remobilisation of unbleached grains from pre-existing cave floor sediments, and their subsequent translocation and incorporation into deposits within deeper parts of the cavity along with externally bleached, allochthonous grain populations). Detailed examination of solution pipe dynamics at Smoke Tortoise Cave (SMT) reveals a complex accumulation history focused on the marine isotope stage (MIS) 9 and MIS 7 interglacial complexes, as well as the MIS 8e interstadial. The SMT case study highlights that NCC solution pipes are not simply associated with short-lived opening and sediment accumulation events, but may involve multiple, discontinuous deposition episodes and reactivation events. An initial multi-site examination of all published NCC infill chronologies (n = 70) appears to suggest statistically significant, preferential solution pipe development during the relatively wet parts of interglacial or interstadial cycles. The non-uniform infill age distribution implies that NCC solution pipe dynamics may have exerted taphonomic biases on fossil accumulation, which should be taken into consideration when reconstructing long-term palaeoecological histories from NCC solution pipe cavities.
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Australian Research Council